There are some weeks that I don’t feel at all up to the task of sharing vital information with you – and this is one of those weeks. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, has left us reeling with shock yet again. I try hard to avoid sharing my personal opinion in this blog yet this week I find it unfathomable that there are still some individuals who are content to offer “thoughts and prayers” and not address the issues that could prevent another tragedy like this. We’ve been told that it’s a very complicated issue and I’m quite sure that I don’t understand all the nuances of the various positions and options but these are our children for goodness’ sake. It’s time to do something more than offer our thoughts and prayers.
Yet this is not the only important work that needs our help and attention so this week the blog will address two issues: the call of the Bishops United Against Gun Violence and an announcement from Episcopal Migration Ministries regarding the Michigan House of Representatives Bill 4053 affirming English as the official language of Michigan. First for a message from the Bishops:
The heart of our nation has been broken yet again by another mass shooting at an American school.
We offer our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We mourn with particular sorrow Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old student at the school and leader in the youth group at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, who died at the hands of the gunman. We pledge to work with the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida to lend whatever material and spiritual comfort we can to all those who have suffered such a devastating loss.
The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been devalued by politicians whose prayers seem never to move them to act against their self-interests or the interests of the National Rifle Association. Yet, as Christians, we believe deeply in the power of prayer to console, to sustain and to heal, but also to make evident the work that God is calling us to do. We pray that all who have been touched by this violent act receive God’s healing and solace.
In the wake of this massacre, we believe God is calling us to understand that we must not simply identify the social and political impediments to ending these lethal spasms of violence in our country. We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and, in accordance with the keeping of a holy Lent, repent and make reparations.
Specifically, we ask you, members of our church and those who ally yourselves with us, to:
- Contact your elected representatives and ask them to support legislation banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, which is the gun used in most of the recent mass shootings in our country; high-capacity magazines; and bump stocks, the equipment used by the killer in the Las Vegas massacre that allows semiautomatic weapons to fire dozens of rounds in seconds. We understand that mass shootings account for a small percentage of the victims of gun violence; that far more people are killed by handguns than by any kind of rifle; that poverty, misogyny and racism contribute mightily to the violence in our society and that soaring rates of suicide remain a great unaddressed social challenge. And yet, the problem of gun violence is complex, and we must sometimes address it in small pieces if it is not to overwhelm us. So, please, call your members of Congress and insist that your voice be heard above those of the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists.
- Participate in a service of a lamentation for the victims of the Parkland shooting and all victims of lethal gun violence. We will be announcing a schedule of such services at churches around the country in the near future. To keep up with these plans, please follow our Facebook page Episcopalians Against Gun Violence.
- Enter into a period of discernment with us about how, through prayer, advocacy and action, we can make clear to our elected representatives that they must vote in the interests of all Americans, including law-abiding gun owners, in passing life-saving, common sense gun policies. Visit our websiteto learn more about our work and how to reach us. And if you plan to attend this summer’s General Convention in Austin, Texas, plan to join us each morning for prayer outside the convention hall and to attend the Bishops United Against Gun Violence public witness on Sunday, July 8 at 9 a.m.
Two years after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that took the life of Ben Wheeler, an active young member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, his father, David, asked parents to look at their children and then ask themselves, “Am I doing everything I can to keep them safe? Because the answer to that question, if we all answer honestly, clearly is no.” In memory of Carmen and Ben and all of God’s children lost to senseless gun violence, may God give us grace and fortitude in our witness so that we can, at last, answer yes.
You can find more information in the article by Episcopal News Service.
It’s easy to find the contact information for your legislators. If you’re nervous about calling, please know that the aides that answer are not going to engage in a debate. They listen politely to your position and take your contact info. It’s even more effective to stop in for a visit at their local office so gather a group of friends and pay them a call. We need to make our voices heard for the children and heroes who gave their lives to save others!
Last week Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) sent out an email alerting us to a bill being presented in the Michigan House. The Rev. Terri Pilarski, rector of Christ Church Dearborn, is our diocesan liaison for EMM so I asked if she might share her thoughts with us on this bill:
Last night my husband and I had dinner at an Olive Garden on Ford Road in Dearborn. Like other restaurants in Dearborn this one was filled with people from all over the world. One large party near us were Arabic eating shrimp scampi among other courses. Multiple generations filled the long table and the pieces of conversation I could hear flowed between English and Arabic while the kids played games on the tabletop tablet and the teenagers were sending text messages on their iPhones. Other people in the restaurant were black or white or brown. One table next to me complained to the manager about their experience dining there, how the kids were disruptive, and they were. But they were just being kids. I wondered about the opportunity to experience so much diversity in one simple meal, finding myself better off for it, disruptions and all.
I lived in metro Chicago for forty years. Often I lived in neighborhoods were the primary language spoken was either Yiddish, or Polish, or Spanish, or maybe English, and sometimes all of them were present at the same time. It was common to hear many languages spoken by caregivers when I took my kids to the neighborhood parks. My daughter and son attended a high school where twenty-three languages were spoken.
I have made some feeble attempts to learn another language. I studied Spanish 7-9th grades and then changed to French for a couple of years. From time to time I have tried to go back to one of these languages and learn them again, but I never quite succeed. I do have Facebook friends who are actively learning other languages in preparation for a trip to that country. One friend has been studying Swedish for a couple of years and is beginning to think in Swedish. Other friends are learning Spanish or Italian or French.
Although I have lived in richly diverse communities much of my life, I find the diversity in Dearborn to more pronounced than elsewhere. This is because I am often the only white person in a restaurant or doctor’s office. Patients, doctors, nurses, and staff are predominantly black or Arabic or Asian. There is something beautiful about this, an opportunity for me to be present to the fullness of God’s created human beings.
Recently I received an email from Episcopal Migration Ministries regarding a piece of legislation in Michigan, HB 4053, which would designate English as the official language of the State of Michigan. English would be the language used for public records, public meetings, and official acts of State. The email was a request from Church World Service for faith leaders to sign a letter against this bill because its aim “is to marginalize people who live in Michigan who do not speak English as their primary language. Mandating the English language is not necessary to the state, and in fact, hurts Michigan’s economic interests, denies vital services to vulnerable populations, and negatively impacts many hardworking, taxpaying Michiganders.”
In this season of Lent I am regularly praying the Penitential Rite which begins with, “Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-3). I value the diversity of God’s creation and am grateful for the opportunity to be with and learn from others. I do not support efforts to limit or confine or narrowly define who or what it means to be a member of society in this country or any other. Instead I find strength and value in being with others who are different from me, a kind of creativity that reminds me to never narrowly define God either.
Thank you, Terri, for sharing this important issue with us. We are, indeed, blessed by the diversity that comes from loving all our neighbors and affirming their dignity since we are all God’s beloved children. Church World Service had asked that we sign the letter by February 15th which has passed but, as of this writing, the link is still working so go ahead and give it a try. Even if the link isn’t working by the time you read this, you can still contact your state legislators and share your thoughts.
In this holy season of Lent, in which many “give up” some personal pleasure like dessert or social media, perhaps taking on advocacy for the most vulnerable and marginalized will be a different kind of Lenten discipline, a sacrifice of living beyond our comfort zones.
Let us pray –
Almighty God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding, surround and comfort all those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Grant to those who lost their lives eternal rest, and may the consolation of your love surround and comfort all who mourn.
In this holy season of Lent, as you call us to examine the parts of our lives where we fall short, grant us forgiveness when we become numb to the scourge of violence in our homes, schools, houses of worship and neighborhoods.
Forgive us, Lord, when our leaders fail to take action to protect the most vulnerable from the dangers of gun violence. Give to them, and to us, your strength.
Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we lack the courage and political will to work together. Open our eyes and our hearts to work across our divisions to end the plague of gun violence.
Forgive us, Lord, when we think that “thoughts and prayers” are enough. Grant to us the resolve to act, and the compassion to care for the mentally ill before they descend into violence.
Forgive us, Lord, when we cling to the idea that more weapons somehow make us more safe. Cleanse us of the arrogance that leads us to believe the right to bear arms trumps the right to life.
Forgive us, Lord, when we too easily divide ourselves into left or right, red or blue, black or white. Help us tear down the isolation that separates us from one another, from our better selves and from the loving God who created us.
Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we feel helpless and overwhelmed in the face of violence. Give us your peace, and sustain us in the work ahead.
Lord, in your mercy, protect the vulnerable, comfort the mourners, inspire our leaders and equip your children to build your peaceable kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.
All this we ask through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Washington National Cathedral)
Grant, O God, that your holy and life‑giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of Michigan, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council